Does duplicate content actually hurt your site rankings in search engines?

By September 14, 2018 Web Design No Comments

Question: If I write a blog post, then repost it to LinkedIn or Medium – will Google punish me?

Not really. Especially not if you follow these tips:

  • Add a link back to your original content
  • Wait about 2 weeks before republishing (so Google has time to index your site – in other words don’t do it automatically or Google may read the other site’s first). 
  • Add a canonical link (Medium will do it for you if you use this tool: https://medium.com/p/import
  • Don’t do EVERY post – again do not automate it

Duplicating content is a common concern raised by people who know a little about SEO: Google “punishes sites with duplicate content”.

The argument often starts like this:

“Hey guys. We wrote a great blog post, but no one is reading it on our site, lets post it to LinkedIn and Medium and other places a built in audience.”

This sounds like a great strategy. Then someone chimes in with a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt about duplicate content. In the end, nothing happens.

This kind of uncertainty is particularly hard to overcome, because its based on a truth:  Google does have guidelines for how it handles duplicate content. This fear also tends to sap motivation for any kind of content sharing, reposting, retelling, or repurposing of information – including sharing content on social media channels. There are many good reasons to post content in multiple places. But there are also technical mistakes that can happen (these DO need to be avoided) and there are evil spammers trying to trick google.

Google only wants to punish the bad guys. If they punish you by mistake, you can tell them. If you make a mistake, you can fix it. If someone steals your content and ranks above you (the only time its a problem) then you can report them.

It is much, much more important to get your message in the hands of interested readers.

Some Background

Years ago, Google had a problem. Spammers were making websites that scrapped the content off of other sites and posted it full of ads. The fake sites were starting to water down the legit sites. So a team of really smart math PhDs at Google got to work and wrote some rules to down rank the duplicates. As the news of this spread, people started to panic because part of their content strategy included posting content to multiple channels: Mobile, social, guest blogs, company site, personal sites, etc.

So its true: Google DOES remove sites from its index that it deems are deceptive or malicious.

It does this through a mix of math and magic which includes looking for duplicates. But this is just one consideration. 

False: If your site has any duplicate content, Google will delist your site, down rank you content, the sky will fall, dogs and cats will start living together, and a whole bunch of bad things will happen. 

If you read the actual Google Guidlines on duplicate content  you see:

“Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results. If your site suffers from duplicate content issues, and you don’t follow the advice listed above, we do a good job of choosing a version of the content to show in our search results.”

Google Help: Duplicate Content

Duplicate content definitions, myths, and lies

Let’s break this down:

What exactly is duplicate content?

Duplicate content is same content in multiple places. If you can read the same words with two or more different urls in the browser, it is technically a “duplicate”.

Original content on the other hand is anything you write. The ideas might not be yours, but the words are. It wasn’t your idea to send the Cartage army over the alps, elephants and all, but you are the one talking about it. Even if you have Hannibal’s wikipedia page open in front of you while you write there is a difference between research and plagiarism. 

How does duplicate content happen?

Sometimes its a technical mistake – in which case Google will just pick one to be the official one and suppress the rest (you can fix it with Google Webmaster tools)

  • Maybe you have a “print version” of your content with a different url /print/. (To fix: add no-index meta tag to print version)
  • Maybe you reorganized your site or changed a setting. Yesterday all your content had /portal/ in the url but you changed it to /web/ – Google might think its a new page and a duplicate of the site it saw yesterday. 
  • Perhaps you are moving to a new domain (use 301 redirects)

Sometimes its on purpose

  • Perhaps you guest blogged on someone else’s site, and what to repost it to your own site (add a canonical reference tag).
  • Maybe you wrote an article that’s not getting much traffic, so you want to post it to LinkedIn, Medium, or some other site 

Sometimes its just bad content 

  • Maybe you have a “boiler plate message” that exists multiple similar pages – especially if those pages are light on content outside the boiler plate

Sometimes its a legit bad guy

It’s common sense

Some of the top sites on the web are FULL of duplicate content. Newspapers syndicate content from Reuters and the Associated Press. Sites like Twitter and Google are in many cases nothing but snippets from other sites. Wikipedia is often the number 1 result for many searches and it has a policy AGAINST original content. 

Not only that, but sharing and reposting content can be a great way to build your audience and generate traffic. Take this article for example. My plan is to post it here, on BenShoemate.com – when I post it, I will promote it on Twitter, Quora, and LinkedIn though link sharing. Then in a few weeks, I’ll re-post it to my company blog on Base22.com with the canonical url leading here and to Medium and LinkedIn.

I do that because there are totally different audience for each of those channels. Since there is very little over lap between those audiences, there is little risk of annoying them with the same content in multiple places. 

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